Profound Lore—An interview with Chris Bruni

A few years ago I was flicking through a rack of used metal CDs at my favorite (now sadly deceased) record store, when I discovered an album by blackened/noise outfit Wold. What initially caught my attention was that someone had scribbled “noisy shit” across the back of the CD cover. Now, I guess you could take that one of two ways, good or bad, and thankfully I choose the former. I loved the album—although I don’t know if you can technically love Wold—and it piqued my curiosity enough to begin exploring the innovative catalogue of their Canadian-based label, Profound Lore.

There was a time during underground metal’s formative years when record labels really mattered. You could depend on a favorite label to sort the wheat from the chaff for you, you knew that whatever it was going to put out would be great, and the label knew it had a hungry audience. There was mutual respect. These days of course, things are very different. Sure, labels still care about their fans, but the playing field is much larger (extreme metal has currency these days) so there’s a certain distance between those who release the music and those who listen to it.

But that hasn’t been the case for Profound Lore. The label’s dogged commitment to releasing original and innovative works epitomizes the respect that can be built between a label and an audience that trusts in its overarching aesthetic. Over the past seven years Profound Lore has consistently released albums that have not only been confrontational and daring, but that often represent the artists’ creative pinnacle.

With artists covering a spectrum of different genres—everything from death metal to doom, black metal to avant-folk, progressive, noise, ambient, experimental and beyond—Profound Lore has steadfastly refused to follow trends or sign bands that lack the vision or drive to follow through with their creative ideas. This has led to a roster filled with the sort of inspired and unconventional artists that other labels can only dream about.

The last couple of years have been particularly rich for Profound Lore. Releases from Krallice, Altar of Plagues, Castevet, Yob, Agalloch, Caïna, Disma, Mitochondrion, Cobalt, The Howling Wind, Impetuous Ritual, Portal, Slough Feg, Yakuza, Subrosa, Vasaeleth, Worm Ouroboros, Man’s Gin, Ludicra, Hooded Menace, Dawnbringer and Coffinworm have had rave reviews and topped best-of lists all over the globe. All the success and respect that the label’s achieved, and is likely to reap with upcoming new releases for Leviathan and The Atlas Moth, is down to the effort of one man, label head Chris Bruni.

After reading two excellent interviews with Chris recently—found here at cvltnation.com and metalreview.com—I decided there were a few questions left to be answered. I emailed Chris expecting him to be far too busy packing Agalloch albums to reply to a metal geek from New Zealand, but he was super gracious in his reply, taking the time to answer comprehensively and thoughtfully.

As a teenager in 80s New Zealand my access to metal was initially limited to major label artists, or the occasional ‘big’ independent band. New Zealand was dull and grey and metal was a lifesaver for me really (especially when I discovered the tape-trading circuit). What was it like growing up in Canada as a metal kid? What was your gateway band that set you off on the metal path?

I had older cousins, and was around older people in general, who were into music in general and I’d get exposed to bands (mostly rock bands I guess) through them and I think that was my first exposure to popular or whatever music in general, just being around these people. When it came to metal, aside from some of the music I’d hear around these people, I first got exposed to it from the heavy metal show on the music TV channel I would watch as a kid and being first exposed to metal through videos from bands such as Motley Crue, Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Kiss etc. and then from there, on this show they would show videos from heavier bands and it just went from there. As I got older, I would watch the metal hour show every time I got home from school (from what I can remember it used to be an hour-long show that would air once a week and then would progress to four half-hour episodes every week and ultimately then going back to its once-a-week, hour-long slot, which ended up getting the shaft on Fridays at midnight, and by the time this happened, I didn’t have much interest in watching this show anymore anyway). But I think this was the best way to first get exposed to metal as a kid, by having a strong visual element in the band’s image and their videos in general (in which said aforementioned bands above made a big impression with) to complement this adventurous loud music.

Profound Lore is my favorite label, but I’m wondering what your favorite labels were when you were growing up? Did you draw any inspiration from any labels when you decided to make a go of Profound Lore?

It wasn’t until I started listening to death metal in the early 90s where I actually became conscious about record labels because it was the time where I felt I had to buy, or at least investigate anything from, labels such as Earache, Roadracer/Roadrunner, Peaceville, Nuclear Blast, Century Media etc. back in the day because they were releasing my favorite bands. I guess if Profound Lore was inspired by any labels it would be labels such as the early Peaceville years, Misanthropy Records, the early years of Avantgarde Music, Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence Productions label, and other non-metal labels such as 4AD, Mute, and AmRep.        

 Canada seems to have a very supportive metal scene; at least it does from the coverage I read. What are your impressions on metal’s status in Canada? Is there a great deal of home-grown support for Profound Lore?

It depends which territory of Canada you are referring to. Most of the best metal coming out of Canada comes from its West Coast with bands such as Weapon, Mitochondrion, Antediluvian, Revenge etc. Personally the majority of metal coming out of the province where I live in (Ontario) is a joke (with the odd hidden gem), at least these days anyway because in the 80s Ontario had some of the most killer metal bands ever since this province bred such bands as Sacrifice, Razor, Anvil, Infernal Majesty, Slaughter etc.

But there’s honestly not much support here in Canada for the label because I guess the music I release can only go so far in Canada. To be brutally honest, my sales here in Canada are less than desirable and the only release of mine that has sold decently is the latest Agalloch album.

Profound lore has such an incredible roster of artists. Do you ever stop and pause for a moment to reflect on just what you’ve achieved as a label? Are you aware of the weight a new Profound Lore release has in the world of metal? Does that ever make you slightly nervous as release dates approach?

Essentially I just take everything in stride and I admittedly do get an overall feeling of nervousness because with the reputation the label has gotten in the underground, it does put a bit of pressure to keep this momentum consistent, a momentum in which I hope to ride for as long as humanly possible. I guess I do on occasion reflect on what I’ve achieved with the label, but I’m not the kinda guy who does stuff like five-anniversary celebrations or when, or if the label reaches its 10th year, I probably won’t do anything to commemorate said milestone. I probably won’t even notice it unless someone reminds me. But I just take everything in stride and just focus on keeping things consistent as best as I can day by day.

With such a range of unconventional artists on the label you no doubt deal with some very idiosyncratic personalities. How do you manage that process with artists? Do you have to have a thick skin when making decisions that an artist might not necessarily agree with?

I try to be as open as possible, and if need be, do my best to bring whoever down to reality, somewhat I guess. It’s all about finding common ground and understanding between both parties and I sure as hell do not want to be seen as some label head behind a big desk or whatever that looks down upon a band or stands above them. I’m on the same level as the bands, as one of them and I’m just appreciative that they can let me do my part in helping them bring awareness to their vision as best as I can. I guess almost like an extended member who wants to do his part in helping being part of the band’s vision. But I can say this, my highest-selling bands are the easiest and most convenient to deal with and even though, naturally, sometimes their demands can come across as a bit more than say a mid-level band of mine, I usually have no problem in meeting their demands and don’t challenge their needs and don’t have a hard time adhering to their needs. But it’s all about finding common ground and coming to a compromise.

Do you ever have any input into the creative process with your bands? I don’t mean that you have any dictatorial role! But do you give a certain amount of feedback to bands to help them produce their best work?

Yeah, I do give suggestions at times and depending on the band, sometimes I like to be part of that creative process, if the scenario allows me to, or at least follow it intently. But sometimes I want to distance myself away from it as much as possible and wait until the final product is finally delivered. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm with bands, mostly on logistical stuff like where they want to record, master, and who they want to use for artwork, and just work with them and keep a keen eye, from the writing process through to the recording process right to when their album is all mastered and done. But yeah, giving suggestions and my opinion on occasion can help. And sometimes I cannot help it, to have my voice heard, and I think it’s something I should actually do more and be more open in doing so. Especially since I’m investing in them.

I read recently that Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit was the label’s biggest seller so far. As you essentially run the label yourself, how do you ever manage to find the time to balance other artists’ needs against those who have a higher profile? Or is that just one of the hard decisions you need to make when running a label?

I pretty much like to be on-call for all the artists’ needs or whatever concerns they may have and I tend to get back to them as conveniently as I can. So if anyone has a concern it gets addressed promptly, no matter if I’m out doing whatever social crap outside of the label or if I’m just chilling out and taking it easy at home. And especially if someone like John Haughm of Agalloch or Mike Scheidt of Yob had a pressing concern, I guess it’s almost inherent that I will have to address the matter immediately.

Profound Lore has a reputation for signing bands that produce albums that often represent the creative peak of their chosen genres. Is it a nightmare sorting through the demos and submissions the labels receives, or do you work through word of mouth more? I guess I’m asking how is it that Profound Lore has managed to get such a fantastic roster in the first place?

It’s pretty much mostly through word of mouth and referral or, when working with a new band, it’s a band I had already been friends with even before said band was on my label. Sometimes a somewhat-known band will get in touch with me mainly because they are fans of some of the bands on the label, or friends of some of the musicians on the label (again, referral) and/or fans of the label itself. Of course I do get a plethora of solicitations on a daily basis from newer unknown bands I haven’t even heard from.

Do you see Profound Lore as having a certain aesthetic? With such a broad range of artists what do you see as the thread that binds them together? Or do you see any commonalities at all?

I guess the commonalities inherent would be that the majority of artists actually challenge the listener with their releases and when taken to the extreme, they go full on without compromise. Especially with the death metal I release, because I personally think that the death metal releases under the Profound Lore banner represent the most forward-thinking, challenging and atmospherically sinister death metal coming out today. And that’s one of my main specific goals for the label, even though it’s not really seen as a death metal label, I strive to put out the darkest and most destructive death metal today and hopefully help to encourage this new movement that I personally hope envelopes the entire extreme metal scene like the plague.

But even though there is a varying of styles I think the thread that binds them all together is something that’s culled within the collective unconscious of the label’s repertoire and my overall psyche. It’s simply a feeling that culminates within me where I know these bands can stand together. For example, I personally don’t think a band like SubRosa seems out of place next to a band like Mitochondrion. But that’s just me though.

But it’s the aesthetic that the label thrives from, and admittedly I mostly think on an aesthetic level first and foremost and not on a business level, because I’m sure business wise, thinking on the aesthetic level would not be the wise thing to do. The aesthetic feeling is one inherent, something that’s hard to explain at times, but it seems more and more I know what I want in the bands I work with. It’s a (learning) process that continues to become more focused and more discriminative. I personally think that the label’s success and growth is mostly due to the building of its aesthetic and not depending on stupid whoring marketing or advertising ploys.

I’m really looking forward to hearing the new Atlas Moth and Leviathan albums, and the new Antediluvian record is something I was thrilled to hear that Profound Lore was releasing. What else have you got coming up over the next year?

Aside from those albums, I got the new Wolvhammer album coming out this fall, which is so crushing and makes you want to pillage the church in your area, and also the new Wold album, which is a blacknoise ritual that sounds akin to an alien transmission.

If you had to pick a few Profound Lore releases to recommend for anyone approaching the label for the first time, who would you go with?

Probably the Cobalt and Yob albums would be a good start as well as Agalloch’s Marrow Of The Spirit. And I guess work around there and explore further.

And lastly, where are you at personally with metal these days? Favorite bands? Do you have any particular genre you favor, and who do you enjoy outside the world of metal?

Honestly, I don’t listen to much other metal these days because the majority of new and recent metal being released today I find useless and boring, for the most part. With the exception of a few releases and a few bands. Any of the metal I listen to these days is usually the more extreme and more underground kind, which is the metal I gravitate most towards, while at the same time I still have interest in hearing new output from some of the bigger metal and heavy music bands I can tolerate. Which are few and far between, admittedly.

On my free music-listening time I essentially listen to mostly non-metal anyway, and if you were to look up the most played songs on my iTunes playlist, they would most likely all be songs by the Swedish band Kent.

 

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